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Students appreciate taking the road less traveled

(Photo by Travis Gillespie)

We were lost.

In a concerted effort to chronicle our journey through the Butler county countryside this weekend, I found that a lot had happened.

I wanted to journal our experience between Thursday afternoon and Friday evening. Well by the time we began writing about Thursday night I was already over 2,000 words. Was this because I was the most descriptive writer since Tolkien? Or simplybecause this weekend was full of experiences that deserved every ounce of detail I could muster.

I’ll lean strongly towards the second.

So after cutting out a majority of the weekend I was able to focus on the time Travis and I spent on what we came to know as “The Road.”

It was about three o’clock and Travis and I were driving around Butler County. We’d been searching for the old Chelsea Schoolhouse which was supposedly located just northeast of El Dorado Lake. The GPS, courtesy of Google Maps, had led us all over the county — everywhere, in fact, but the schoolhouse. The most recent directions left us taking a north turn on a barely maintained two-lane dirt road. On the east side the Flint Hills were beginning to show themselves. On the other was an open pasture with a thick tree­-line located at the back.

The landscapes were vastly different, but different like Scarlett Johanssen and Adriana Lima. One is a 5-foot-3-inch, hourglass-figured, blonde pinup, and the other a 5-foot-10-inch, brunette, legs-for-days bombshell — they’re drastically different, but both command equal attention.

A large wading bird takes flight on the Kansas Prairie. Photo by Lane Kendall

As we began our trip up the road I was focused on our destination. I had no idea that I needed to pay attention to where I was going. Thankfully Travis was paying attention.

“Slow down!” he shouted.

Travis had seen some sort of bird he explained, a red-winged something-or-other. I complied and slowed, but only for a minute for I became impatient after not seeing anything after five seconds. I sped up again.

“Slow down!” he yelled again.


This time, with much more direction than the previous time. I found out that Travis was quite the bird-watching aficionado and had seen this as a golden opportunity to nab some excellent photos of the creatures.

I don’t know if it was his enthusiasm or if I became suddenly aware of how impressive this scene

was that we found ourselves in, but I slowed my red Jeep Grand Cherokee to a crawl.

The road we were driving on could not have been more fitting to our project. The whole theme behind the Symphony in the Flint Hills, for me at least, was to appreciate nature, and the beautiful wild God crafted in the beginning. In that moment, I felt like God had led us here, to this secret place to open up my heart and eyes to how beautiful life can be when you take time to stop and give it adequate observation.

There were beautiful birds with every glance. Birds I could never name but Travis seemed to know each and every one. Except the most peculiar of birds we found perched on an old wooden post that held up rusted barbed wire on the west side of the road. This little fella had a small resemblance to the roadrunner, which most in Kansas could identify, but it was clearly something else entirely. It had long thin legs that looked like a herons, but this bird stood only about a foot tall. It had a long tail and a beak to matchits color was dull actually a sort of rainy-day gray. Still, its peculiarness emitted a strange beauty that I can’t quite explain with my vernacular.

We saw rabbits, mice, and insects of all sorts. We even saw a bull snake that slinked it’s way in to the tall grass that covered the ditches as soon as the wheel tracks stopped. The defining moment of our journey though, came at the sight of a weed.

The east side of the road, the hills side, was largely pale green and brown but as we neared the end of this road I glimpsed a vibrant shade of Bronco orange illuminating about 30 yards out past the barbwire fence. I slammed on the breaks, surprising myself actually. I had to get a picture of this plant.

I motioned for Travis to give me the camera, he handed it to me and I exited the vehicle. All that stood between me and the picture I had to have was the barbwire fence. It was four rows tall with a foot of space between each row. That wasn’t too much of a problem; I grabbed the third wire and pushed it down so I could fit myself between it and the fourth row. After I Catherine-Zeta-Jones’d the fence, I slowly approached the orange-flowered plant. I crept as stealthily as I could because I had noticed that the plant was covered with butterflies.

Now I definitely don’t consider myself a photographer, and I don’t necessarily even enjoy it. But I was transfixed by these orange flowers, that I later learned were —Butterfly Milkweed, and it turned me into a regular Ansel Adams. I got down on my stomach and got as close as I could via army crawl.

 Butterfly milkweed is one of the outstanding flowering plants found in the Flint HIlls. Prized by Native Americans for its medicinal qualities, it has complicated flower clusters that bloom in June and are a treat for hummingbirds and monarch butterflys. (Photo by Lane Kendall)

Butterfly milkweed is one of the outstanding flowering plants found in the Flint HIlls. Prized by Native Americans for its medicinal qualities, it has complicated flower clusters that bloom in June and are a treat for hummingbirds and monarch butterflys. (Photo by Lane Kendall)

Before I triggered the shutter, I looked over the camera and just watched. Luckily I didn’t miss the picture opportunity. I just watched and enjoyed. It took me until I returned to the Jeep and took a few seconds to realize how rarely we just stop and enjoy.

There is always an endgame in mind. Take the picture, get it in the magazine. Listen to the story, get the goodquote. Video that fox running down the road and show everyone. That’s all great and has its place, but it far too often denies us the true pleasure of being in awe.

I put the Jeep back in gear and shortly after we reached the end of the road.

Later that evening I realized I’d only taken about five pictures while we were on “The Road,” but I have a clearer memory of the 30 minutes spent on that road than the rest of the weekend combined.

The reason for this, I think, is that I only watched. That watching has now grown into a marveling.

Everyone is entitled to his own interpretation, but to me that road, and the absolute beauty that surrounded it make it so difficult to believe that we’re here by some coincidence, that the flowers blooming and the hills rolling are merely there by chance. It was too perfect in my eyes to be the product of anything else but the divine.

I am so thankful we got lost.